Ask Emily: How Do I Deal with Anxiety During Sex?

anxiety during sex
Dear Emily, 

I want to feel relaxed and comfortable during sex, but so much of the time I’m just consumed with anxiety. Everything from “do I look OK in this underwear?” to “do they like what I’m doing? Do they hate it??” It’s like I can’t turn off my brain. Do you have any pointers on how to deal with my anxiety and worries during sex?

–Anxious in Bed

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Dear Anxious in Bed,

Oh man, you are so not alone on this! Anxiety during sex is super common. Everything from body image (which you mention a bit here), to performance anxiety, to worrying about what your body parts are actually doing…there is a myriad of ways for our “monkey mind” to take over. And once it does, it’s difficult to relax, because your brain has been hijacked by worried thoughts.

But I do have tips for you. Outside of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD for short), anxiety during sex is so normal that I give coping tips for it all the time. Here are my four top suggestions for dealing with sex-related anxiety, so you can feel more comfortable and confident during the act…and, melt into all the pleasure that’s waiting for you.

1. Talk about it.

Do you know how a secret can take on a life of its own? And the simple act of keeping it can start to become really stressful? That’s a little how sex anxiety works: you feel like you can’t speak your fears out loud, or else the other person will judge you. (Or, not be into you anymore.)

But guess what? You don’t have to play it cool. When you simply admit that you’re nervous, you dispel that anxiety by taking it out of the realm of secrecy. For example: “I can’t wait to hook up with you, but if I’m being totally honest I’m also kind of nervous!” That simple gesture is an invitation to the other person, to peek inside your mind and get to know you better. And when they do, you know what’s cool? They can now be honest with you, too. So if you feel pressured to be this empowered sex god/goddess…don’t. Emotional intimacy is sexy. And when someone’s earned the right to hear your truth, you give them a gift by being honest.

2. Create a toy toolkit.

Let’s talk about another common source of sex anxiety: worrying about coming too early. I hear this a lot from penis-owners, who feel like they have so little control during sex, they can’t get into the moment and enjoy it. That’s why I wish every penis-owner knew about delay spray! It’s 2021, so let’s normalize this one. Promescent Delay Spray is one of my favorites on the market, helping you draw out your pleasure by relaxing your nerve cells. The result? You last longer, aka: you don’t have to grit your teeth and try to “hold in” your orgasm. The delay spray has your back!

Of course, the other side of this fear is that you can’t come at all, because you’re worried you won’t stay hard. Both situations—coming earlier than you’d like, or not remaining erect – say nothing about you as a person or your sexual ability. What it tells us are the conditions of your anatomy, namely how sensitive your nerve cells are, and how quickly your blood flows back into your body once you’re erect. To help the latter, reach for a cock ring! Worn at the base of the penis, a ring enables you to stay harder for longer by maintaining engorgement. I like the Mio from JeJoue, because it’s got some pretty outstanding bells and whistles…namely vibration, the deep rumbly kind. Use it to stimulate your perineum during solo play, or turn it to connect with a partner’s clitoris during partner play. 

3. Mindful Masturbation

You can also ease sex anxiety with a technique called “mindful masturbation,” which is just as straightforward as it sounds – and yet, critical in reshaping your neural pathways.

During mindful masturbation, you can try edging (getting yourself almost to the point of orgasm, backing off, then ramping back up again) to practice modulating your pleasure response. But more importantly, you can start tuning in to the intricacies of your body signals, which will help you develop a more loving relationship with your body as a whole. 

Try this: stimulate your vagus nerve (the nerve that tells our brain that we’re safe), by taking ten deep, long breaths. As you tune into each inhale, and each exhale, allow your mind to clear. If a thought comes up, no worries. Imagine sending it down a river, then, come back to your breath. What we’re doing here is building up a “mental muscle:” the one that helps you let go of worrying thoughts, and return to the present moment. 

And don’t forget…you’re masturbating! So while you get in this meditative zone, feel free to give your body some delicious sensations. I like perusing the offerings over at Good Vibrations, and particularly the Womanizer Liberty by Lily Allen. It mimics oral sex with “pleasure air technology,” but not just any oral—it’s like the best oral sex you’ve ever had. Trust.

Another ahh-mazing option is the Pom from Dame. Its small size makes it perfectly grip-able, and it flexes to fit your needs—making it an ideal choice for mindful masturbation. You can (and should) take this toy everywhere, so you can sneak in a self-pleasure sesh whenever the mood strikes. Better yet, it’s waterproof, making it super simple to enjoy some very wet solo play in the shower.

4. Sensual Self-care

My last tip is this: for folks who struggle with body image, I find it’s often healing to tune into the senses, to get out of your head and into your body. 

So next time you’re masturbating (mindfully!) make it a full-sensory experience, with delicious-smelling candles, a bubble bath, sexy music, even something yummy to nibble. So much of the time, we think of body image as purely a confidence thing – and that’s definitely part of it. But folks who can’t stop the mental ticker tape often have some numbness around their senses, simply because their attention isn’t going there. That’s now your homework! 

You’re going to give yourself 360-degree pleasure and wake up all the subtle intake zones that exist in your magical body. You’re going to heighten your sense of smell, taste, touch, and sound – and when you do, you’re going to develop a kinder relationship with your sight, too. That’s because you’re going to build a more full composite picture of your sexiness, seeing yourself as a sexual being not in spite of your body, but because of your body. This incredible vessel that takes in all this sensual information and transforms it into desire, pleasure, and allure. 

I hope these tips help! Remember: you don’t have to be held hostage by sex anxiety. With a growth mindset—and a solid mind/body practice—you can stop freaking, and start accessing more of the pleasure you deserve. Enjoy!

xx, Emily